Stop writing rubbish CVs!

Looking for a job without success?

Recently, I’ve had a few conversations with highly skilled clients who feel frustrated about the lack of opportunity, as they see it, to progress their career in the current job climate.  I wonder if you can relate to this?  Perhaps you’re yearning for a new challenge – the chance to really use the skills you have and develop some more.  Perhaps you feel frustrated at the lack of opportunity out there in the marketplace.  You’ve updated your CV and you’re putting it out there but you’re not getting much back.  Of course, seniority is a factor – the more senior you become the fewer jobs there are that require someone like you.  But you’re also nervous that the jobs just aren’t there to be had and you’re starting to feel frustrated.

On my side of the fence, the proportion of my work which sits under the heading “executive assessment” has gone up in the last couple of years.  Of course, this partly reflects the fact that coaching – a mainstay of my business – looks like a bit of a luxury right now.  It’s also true that organisations are downsizing (or, hopefully, “rightsizing”) so that, by definition, there must be fewer senior jobs about.  Having said that, when it comes to recruiting leaders into senior roles there’s one complaint I still don’t hear:  no-one ever says to me “We’re struggling to choose from too many perfect candidates.

Now, this is where I get into a bit of a rant – not something I often allow myself to do.  Far too often, the CVs that come to me ahead of an assessment interview are, frankly, rubbish!  Of course, I say this for effect.  To be more precise, I notice how often interviewees rely on headhunters to prepare their CV for them and how often, in my view, these CVs fail to convey essential information in a way which has a positive impact on me as the reader.  They’re too long.  They miss out key information.  I don’t know, from the CV, if I’m dealing with Jo Blogs Mr Average or someone who’s well suited to the role and highly likely to raise levels of performance by his or her presence in the job.  It’s telling that when I complimented one candidate recently on the quality of his CV he revealed that he’d written it himself and felt a bit miffed when the recruitment agency had added their logo and claimed it as their own.

By now, you’re probably wondering what I’d like to see instead so here are a few thoughts from me about what to get right.

Get clear about what you want from a job
It may be self-evident and still, it needs saying.  If you want to find a job that really meets your needs, you need to take responsibility for clarifying what those needs are.  The more you know what you want, the more you can craft your CV to make it more likely that it will stand out to a potential employer.

The purpose of your CV is to get you short-listed for interview
Get clear about what you want your CV to do for you.  I’m guessing you want your to stand out sufficiently that a potential employer – especially one who is the perfect match for you – will notice it amongst the many others and say “yes, let’s interview this person”.  It may play other roles down the line (when someone like me takes a look at it, for example, before interviewing someone who has already been interviewed and short-listed for the job) but please, focus on first things first.  Your CV needs to get you to interview.

Yes, describe your experience – but major on your achievements and skills
Too many CVs provide a lengthy list of dates, job titles and organisations – without giving any sense of how you have performed in each job and what skills you bring at this stage in your career.  It’s worth spending time and getting feedback from others before committing your thoughts to paper in order to get really clear about your main achievements and your core skills – I have noticed that often people take for granted the skills that are most valuable to a potential employer.  You may need certain experience – the job titles etc. – to pass through a first sift of CVs but to get to interview it’s your skills and experience that make you stand out.

Make your CV attractive and easy to read
Cue brevity – but not only this.  Think about how you can present the information you want to include in ways which convey key messages in an attractive and accessible way.  Some clients include a personal statement up front – a summary of their skills, achievements and experience.  This can be a way of capturing the attention so that the reader says, “I want to know more”.  One client recently shaped a two-page CV, in landscape, with summary profile (four lines), experience, capabilities and personal style (most of one page), sample achievements and results (most of second page).  His personal details (name, address etc.) and his career history and education were all there – but the main focus was on the things that would make him stand out from other candidates.

Sort out the fine details
By this I mean use the spell-check or get someone to read your CV who will notice any mistakes.  If you have any difficulties with spelling or grammar you need to make sure you cover this base in another way so that you don’t fall fowl of the assumptions and prejudices of a potential employer (who is, after all, looking for reasons to exclude candidates from the pile of CVs on the desk).

It’s not just about the CV
Perhaps this is a subject for another day – or even for a coaching assignment.  Still, finding a job is not just about the quality of your CV.  Make sure you have the support you need to embark on your job hunt and to see it through to a successful conclusion.  Make sure you know how to find jobs in your sector.  Make sure you know which organisations you’d most like to work with… the list goes on.

But just for starters, stop writing rubbish CVs!

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